Prosperity versus Spirituality

Personal Matters

Last week I was in Bandung Indonesia for an Asian Christian leadership conference.

This Christ-centred event raised more sharply than ever the question of whether a spiritually mature Church can ever exist in a materially affluent culture.

For instance, an elderly South Korean related how after two major wars Korea was one of the poorest nations on earth, then the people started to cry out to God and experienced both economic and spiritual miracles.

Today Protestant Christians are easily the most highly educated and professional group in the country.

But in recent years there have been subject to public scandals a marked decline in prayerfulness and the nation’s youth are turning away from the Church in droves.

What surprised me in Indonesia was listening to speakers from a wide range of nations bemoaning deviations that are becoming normal part of church life. In Thailand for instance a leader is more likely to be chosen for strategic reasons than because he/she is a person of character.

All the sins of the Western Church I have been speaking against for decades seem to be infiltrating the “two thirds world”.

One Puritan famously said of the early American experience; “Religion begat prosperity and the daughter devoured the mother.” Is this situation inevitable? It certainly seems to be usual in scripture.

Fat Believers

Moses explained that the wilderness experience of Israel was a fatherly test so that in the land of promise they might not say;

‘my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’

Deut 8:5, 17

But he also prophesied,

‘“Israel soon became fat and unruly; the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed! Then they abandoned the God who had made them…”

Deut 32:15

Throughout the history of God’s old covenant people physical prosperity is repeatedly followed by spiritual ruin.

Possessed by our Possessions.

For instance the mega rich Solomon, unlike his father David, led Israel into idolatry (1 Ki 11:4).

Whilst the New Testament covers a short span of time we see the same problems surfacing.

Paul warns, “in the last days…people will be lovers of self, lovers of money…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power (2 Tim 3:1ff.).

These are our days and Christ warned a Church like our own; “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev 3:16).

Few Australian Christians find material prosperity a block to their spiritual maturity because the creature comforts of our capitalist culture long ago got the upper hand. We are possessed by our possessions.


Contrast this with the testimony of the Early Church; “those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common…There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them…and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4: 32, 34-35).

Living as the family of God the first Christians laid aside their legal rights of ownership so as to better care for each other.

Working to Give to Others

In the light of Christ they knew everything a Christian has is a gift from God and presents an opportunity to give to others. E.g. “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Eph 4:28).

I can’t think of many local believers whose primary motivation for working is to give to others. If you are an exception it can only be because you have had an exceptional revelation of the gospel.

Christ the Key

The Bible upholds the super-generosity of God in Christ;For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9).

In heaven Jesus was full of the riches of the love of his Father, but sensing a lost humanity in great spiritual, moral and physical pain he was moved to empty himself and enter our sphere of suffering (Phil 2:7-8).

The absolute impoverishment of the cross launched Jesus into the resurrection as the restorer of all God planned for us to enjoy in the beginning (John 1:16).

Christ’s emptiness has becomes fullness for us (Col 2:9-10).

This measure of love alone can heal the selfish possessive individualism which grips the culture of Western Christianity.


Jesus gave up everything for us that we might give up everything for him, and for others. Such sacrifice is the essence of Christianity; “By this we know love that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16). Many Christians are praying for the power of the Spirit to signs, wonders and live a more prosperous life. Yet how rare is it to hear folk praying for spiritual power to lay down their lives for others like Christ did. Such prayers would be answered! Whilst most believers would affirm what I have said above hedonism still reigns among us. When I asked the Lord for a solution to this problem he gave me a concrete reply. 

Spiritual Exceptions

The “Clapham sect” was a group which combined affluence with extreme Christian commitment. Gathered around William Wilberforce this wealthy influential group were moved by the sufferings of slaves to give unreservedly of their resources to alleviate suffering.

These men and women truly knew the Spirit’s power because he enabled them to be sensitive to Christ’s sensitivity to the pains of others. This empathy is exactly what is lacking in the affluent Australian Church of today.

It is the “fellowship of sufferings” that alone can enable us to live as exceptions to our greedy culture (Phil 3:10).

The cross teaches that the one thing more powerful than personal pleasure is a love that feels the pain of others. 

Material prosperity and spiritual maturity can exist together wherever the followers of Jesus are willing to be brought in touch with the sufferings of lost humanity. It’s as simple, and as hard, as that.


The history of humanity’s quest for affluence is predictable but not inevitable.

The enticements of the delights of Eden overpowered any awareness of the pain sin would cause God (Gen 3:6).

Canaan was a new Eden whose worldly temptations proved as irresistible as the Garden.

Contemporary Australia too is an “Eden” where most believers choose possessions and sensory experiences, especially the emotional one they have in Church, over the pure but painful love of God!

This can change if we ask the Holy Spirit to give us a deeper identification with love’s sensitivity to the pain of others expressed in the cross.

The fruit of such prayer will surely be the highly unusual combination of material prosperity and spiritual maturity.

Do not however expect such a form of life to be appreciated by the wider society or the dominant culture of the Church.

Those who follow in this way of Christ will experience the power of the Spirit, but they will also be labelled, like the godly of old were, as another extreme Christian “Sect”.

But haven’t we had enough of “normality”??


Author: Dr. John Yates

The Show-Off Spirit Rise Up

v.1 “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, v.2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw v.3…..the time is near.  v.4 John to the seven churches…: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, v.5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth…..

v.17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”…. v.20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” ()

Rev 1:1 - 5; Rev 22:17; Rev 22:20


After reading this part of my report to our AGM; “To release the expression of the diversity of gifts that Jesus gives to his whole Body remains a challenge into the future (Rom 12; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4). Most churches will never mature because they are afraid to enter into the seeming randomness which must precede an outpouring of the power of the Spirit of God.”, Ros asked me to speak on the topic of spiritual gifts. This immediately triggered personal connections.

The first two spiritual books I ever read were the Bible and The Cross and the Switchblade and the first five years of my Christian life were spent in a Pentecostal Church where the sick were prayed for, deliverance from the demonic practiced and prophecy and tongues regularly exercised in public services.

When I joined that church my family thought I had joined a cult, the culture shock was so great they came along to protect me and were all converted! In the decades following that time the Charismatic Movement in the traditional churches became inward and collapsed whilst amongst Pentecostals “worship” = singing progressively marginalised spiritual gifts pushing them out of Sunday meetings. We must seek a deeper biblical foundation for the exercise of the gifts from the one our spiritual ancestors laid for their time. Here is my approach.


When at the start of 1 Corinthians 12 Paul states, “no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” he is making a Christ-centred statement which underlines the significance of all the gifts (12:3).

Charismatic gifts are important because they communicate something of the reign of Christ through and beyond the local congregation.

This is emphatically how Peter explains Jesus’ relationship to the Spirit in his sermon on the day of Pentecost; “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, (Jesus) he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” (Acts 2:33).

As ascended to heaven Jesus is “Lord of all” and has sovereign authority to pour out the Spirit of God upon his Church (Acts 10:36).

The gift and gifts of the Spirit are signs of the Lordship of Christ.

Just as Jesus had explained it before returning to the Father, ““when the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth…he will bear witness/testify about me.” (John 15:26).

All the gifts are designed to testify to Jesus, and using the language of Revelation 19:10, since “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” all these manifestations are, in the broadest sense, prophetic of Christ.

If the Spirit brings a word of wisdom and knowledge it is a communication of Jesus’ wisdom and knowledge (1 Cor 12:8; Col 2:3), if there is a healing or miracle it is a share in the power which raised Jesus from the dead (1 Cor 12:9-10), if tongues are “mysteries in the Spirit” this must be an expression of God’s mystery which is Christ and so on (1 Cor 12:10; 14:2; Eph 3:4; Col 1:27; 2:2; 4:3).

If this way of understanding spiritual gifts is correct, then the collapse of the manifestation of spiritual gifts in the Church represents a collapse of Christ-centredness. A collapse of relating to Jesus in a spiritual mode of understanding which desperately needs to be restored today. Paul’s introduction to 1 Corinthians points us to what this sort of spirituality might be.

Apocalyptic Gifts and Popular Culture

in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Cor 1:4-8

Compare the framework of thought behind these words to parts of my introductory scripture, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.” (Rev 1:1-2) and it becomes plain that Paul and the Corinthians shared what we would call an apocalyptic worldview.

This is an understanding of the world which expects supernatural revelation from heaven and an in breaking of the power of a new world order. From an apocalyptic perspective spiritual gifts are a sign of a new creation that has come in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). This new world order is centred on the heavenly Lordship of Jesus (Rev 5ff.).

When Paul says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Cor 12:7 ESV), it is not just a case that someone is helped or healed, but that in this way there is a revelation of the exalted glory of Jesus Christ through the work of the Spirit who is the one bringing in the renewed cosmic order.

The gifts of the Spirit are evidences of the identity and character of Christ in a world where the powers of darkness seem to reign and the Church is a misunderstood and persecuted minority.

Every manifestation of the Spirit is a tangible assurance that the Holy Spirit in the Bride of Christ is joining with her in a joint witness to the testimony of Jesus, ““Surely I am coming soon.” (Rev 22:17, 20 cf. Rom 8:16).

An intense apocalyptic framework like this is the regular atmosphere of the Early Church, was prevalent in various dimensions at the time of the Reformation and was the case with the revival of spiritual gifts in Pentecostalism.

The traditional Pentecostals I knew had sustained an expectation of the cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan and the soon End of the world and deeply believed in the necessity of all the gifts of God for spiritual survival and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.

Times have radically changed. Charismatics became a part of the church furniture and formed their own groups that threatened no one.

Pentecostalism enjoyed great numerical and financial growth and power and inevitably adjusted to the dominant culture around them.

The idolatrous drive for respectability and influence proved incompatible with God’s radical Spirit-given presence to the poor, weak and marginalised. This is the state the Western Church today. There is however a way forward.

The Show – Off Spirit

The title of a well known book on 1 Corinthians 12-14 is called, “Showing the Spirit”. I think the Holy Spirit is “The Show -Off Spirit”; but in a good sense. Let me illustrate.

I was listening to a conversation between Merle and (pastor) Dale the other day. When she asked him, ‘Can I do a show and tell’ in the Sunday service?” we all know what this means.

Every time we get together the Holy Spirit wants to do a “show and tell” and he wants to show and tell Jesus.

Or, to put the same point from a slightly different angle, the Spirit of the Father wants to show off his Son.

This sort of scenario should not surprise us; the whole universe is filled with evidences for God.

As I was out praying in the early morning the other day with a full moon against a clear sky and shining stars this was gloriously unmistakeable. There are signs of the reality of God in creation, powerful signs of the kingdom of God throughout biblical history and spiritual gifts are signs of the sheer grace which is in Christ.

In the wisdom of God the Holy Spirit has been poured out from heaven to show Jesus and he does this in the most unexpected ways.

The Spirit loves to show off the Lord Jesus by distributing gifts seemingly randomly across the Body.

Unpredictability however is not the same as randomness, whatever the manifestation of the Spirit it has as its goal to point to the glory of God in Christ.

The choreographed style of the dominant church culture of today (especially the influential megachurches) is completely incompatible with the Spirit who “blows where it wishes” (John 3:8).

At the point of intersection between this present evil age and “the powers of the age to come” we should not expect the sort of order that keeps things continuing as they always have been (Gal 1:4; Heb 6:5; 2 Pet 3:4). Perhaps the strangest or most offensive way in which the Spirit distributes his gifts is who he chooses to give them to (1 Cor 12:11; Heb 2:4).

The Corinthians were a rabble; divided, immoral, disorderly, subject to bad teaching, and prone to show off their own spirituality rather than Christ, but they are “not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1 Cor 1:7).

To explain how this is possible let me use an analogy.

Some of the most wretched people I have ever met have been Christians. One of the most charismatic people I ever worked with who was seeing good church growth decided without any discussion to dismiss me by dropping a note in my letter box, and was greatly offended when I had the audacity to ring him up over it.

There were lots of weird as well as wonderful things in that parish but it helped me greatly to conclude that if the Spirit of God and his gifts can live in me he can live and work in anyone who confesses Jesus as Lord.

Paul has a deep theological grounding for this.

If as he says in 1 Corinthians 1:30 Christ Jesus is our “righteousness” = justification, then the gifts must be freely distributed to all believers independent of their spiritual maturity. They are a sign of sheer grace and as such should be “earnestly desired” (1 Cor 12:30; 14:1, 39).

Rare however is that body of people that prays earnestly for these giftings. I can think of a number of reasons for this.


It is easy to set the fruit against the gifts of the Spirit as if they were in competition and Jesus was somehow divided.


Then some folk fear displays of spiritual gifts as the misuse of these can be dangerous and confrontational. I have been in some meetings that were disordered to the point of demonised (1 Cor 14:33).

Paul however didn’t dampen the Corinthians’ enthusiasm for manifestations of the Spirit, he simply taught them about good order and right conduct. The apostolic injunction remains true today; “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thess 5:19-22).

I do not however believe that any of the above reasons for the decline of the showing of the Spirit are adequate explanations.

Throughout the New Testament the outpouring of the Spirit and his gifts is connected to the coming of the gospel.

There are a number of examples in Acts to do with speaking in tongues and prophecy but Hebrews spells it out like this; “it (the message) was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Acts 10:34-46; 19:1-6; Heb 2:3-4).

It must be that the power of the gospel releases the presence of the gifts of the Spirit. Paul starts off 1 Corinthians by saying, “I…did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,”, and says towards the close of the book, “I delivered to you as of first importance …that Christ died for our sins…that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day” (2:1-4; 15:3-4).

If the proclamation of the gospel is the key to the activation of the gifts of the Spirit why do we not see them in many churches that are faithful in gospel preaching?

I think a foundational part of the answer is the neglect of the fact that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the mother of every apocalyptic reality.

The falling away of the disciples, the darkness which covered the land as Jesus hung on the cross and the cry of dereliction, “My God…why have you forsaken me?” witness to the reality that every element of sin’s curse, divine wrath, Satanic assault and human rebellion unveiled by the Lamb in the book of Revelation came upon the Son of God.

That in the hour of “the power of darkness” Jesus loses sight of himself as “the gift of God” and so of all the gifts of the Spirit to/in/through him (John 4:10).

The tearing of the curtain of the temple, the earthquake splitting the tombs and the resurrection of the saints with the angelic presence at the resurrection are the first signs of the manifestation of a new world (Luke 22:53; Matt 27:45-54; cf. 24:7, 12, 29; 28:1ff.).

Biblical apocalyptic is neither a source of fear about the loss of our current stable prosperous order of life nor is it an object of mere fascination.

The spiritual drama unveiled by a biblically grounded apocalyptic worldview is the vehicle for the revelation of Christ as the crucified and exalted Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8). It is within this intensely revelatory framework that the gifts of the Spirit belong.


Since we are far removed from this sort of way of seeing and experiencing the world and the Church it might seem that any significant hope for the restoration of spiritual gifts as we see them in scripture is very slim.

Surely however, “the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7).

I am hopeful we will witness the rebirth of a genuine apocalyptic environment in the Church.

This can only arrive as we accept that whilst new advances for the light of the gospel are happening in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America a dark shadow is falling over the lands of Western Christianity.

In the wisdom of God those alert to the Spirit of God will find the clash between Christ and culture increasingly unbearable without a greater measure of the power of God.

It is time to seek Christ for the Spirit’s gifts, not for the sake of the reputation of the Church, which in our land is humanly irredeemable, but for the sake of testimony of Jesus of which these gifts are a part (Acts 2:33).

This is a testimony that assures us that despite all this earth’s sufferings, travails and terrors this world is not abandoned but under the Lordship of Christ in God.

MESSAGE DELIVERED: 21.8.16 | St Mark’s Anglican Perth 

Author: Dr. John Yates

Great Things

Personal Matters

At our Friday morning prayer last week a brother quoted Paul, “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27).

This mention of the greatness of the mystery of Christ took my mind back to a comment made by a spiritual father some years ago about my theology lectures. “X tells me that all your students are frightened of you.

I think it is because you speak of such great things.” This mature man of God did not say that I was great or that I spoke greatly, it was that the subject of whom I spoke i.e. Christ, is very great. I truly want this sense of Christ’s greatness to intensify in and through my life.

Where however can we find a sense of God’s greatness in the Church today?

 We have casualised the divine presence with our “Hey God” or “Super-Daddy” prayers.

Compare this to Isaiah’s “woe is me” experience of God’s glory in the temple, Amos’s “How can Jacob stand? He is so small!”” in the face of coming wrath or Peter’s “Depart from me…O Lord I am a sinful man” confession at the miraculous catch of fish (Isa 6:5; Amos 7:2;Luke 5:8).

It was the revelation of the greatness of God that turned these ordinary men into extraordinary servants of the Lord. This is exactly the insight which is both needed and resisted in our churches today. How did the Creator of all become small to our sight in the first place?


God first became small in our estimation when Adam and Eve foolishly coveted the likeness of the immortal God as their own possession (Rom 1:23).

Their desire to “be like God, knowing good and evil” was the ultimate act of idolatry Gen 3:5; Col 3:5).

They desired to possess for themselves “the fullness of God” as if by human effort they could squeeze the infinite deity into their puny humanity (Col 1:19; 21).

This was a serious effort to downsize God to the level of our thinking and living.

Whilst Adam and Eve believed that they “deserved” to be gods the result of their sin was an immediate fear of death as punishment (Gen 2:17; 3:8-10; 1 John 4:18).

 Fallen humanity always attempts to mask this fear of death through the creation of idols.

In his insecurity Aaron listened to the people and made the Golden Calf (Ex 32). Gideon considered himself as “least in his father’s house” and was led astray to make a golden ephod as an object of worship (Judges 6:16;8:27). Saul who “feared the people” could not resist making a “monument to himself” (1 Sam 15:12, 24).

Idols are projections of our self-image reflecting our personal desires for power, pleasure and security.

Such objects of self-worship draw us over from our Creator and into ourselves.

God hates idols because they leave him no space to be great in his grace, love, compassion and mercy.

Our Western churches have lost the sense of the greatness of God because they have increasingly conformed to a narcissistic age which continually bombards us with the message that it is us who are great. The Lord however is not mocked. In a society committed to expanding personal self-image it is no surprise we have many people lost in themselves in an inner world of darkness and depression. Just as frightening, the terrorist cry Allahu Akbar, which means “God is Greater”, is a divine judgement on our self-obsessions. From these judgements only Jesus can deliver us.

How Great Thou Art

Jesus was drawn to the small and despised of his times; demon possessed women, Samaritans, prostitutes, lepers, children and the like (Luke 8:1-4; 18:15; John 4:1-29). These “little people” were open to a vision of the greatness of God which flowed through the humility of Christ.

 Jesus however was unlike us in one radical dimension; he never focussed on overcoming the limits of his humanity.

We instinctively puzzle over scriptures like these; ““My Father is greater than all….greater than I.”” (John 10:29; 14:28). They reveal however Christ’s delight to manifest the greatness of God by being the agency of the Father’s works (14:10). The greatest of God’s works however seems to the natural mind to involve his absence.

The Father’s greatest work was to lovingly persuade the Son to become so very small in his own sight that he seemed to be less than human. The psalmist prophetically speaks of Christ’s condition on the cross; “I am a worm and no man” (Ps 22:6).

This absolute nothingness of Christ crucified is however the source of our salvation (Phil 2:7-8). The poverty of Jesus’ dereliction in death created a total space for God to be God in man (2 Cor 8:9). The Son’s guiltless death in our place according to God’s will gave the Father space to be maximally great.

When Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father his human mind was filled to overflowing with just how great God is (Rom 6:4; Heb 2:11). This divine love revealed in cross-and–resurrection is the final display of the true greatness of God (Rom 5:8).

Small is Great

When Paul testifies, “how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”, he reminds his non-Jewish readers that they once were spiritually blind and dead, godless and hopeless possessing the status of “dogs” (Matt 15:26; Acts 26:18; Eph 2:1-3, 12; Col 1:27).

Unlike places in the world where the gospel is breaking new ground the Western churches have lost sight of the enormity of the reality that salvation has come to the nations. We have somehow come to think that we deserve the things of God.

The outlook of Hebrews reminds us of the true state of affairs; “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Heb 2:3-4).

The utter greatness of salvation in Christ is witnessed to by miraculous signs, and that these are distributed according the Spirit’s will” is evidence that God is very willing to reveal his greatness. The revelation of God’s greatness in Christ always opens us up towards him (Col 2:9-10).

Why then are our churches short of supernatural manifestations and lacking in discipleship?

The short answer is that we worship self-comfort.

If Jesus could only receive a revelation of the extent of God’s greatness through death-and-resurrection we also must receive experiences of defeat-and-deliverance (2 Cor 1:3-11). There can be no mature revelation of God’s supreme greatness apart from suffering (Heb 12:2).


Totally convinced that God’s mystery in Christ was “great among the Gentiles” Paul was found “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” (Col 1:28-29).

If with Paul we believe in the greatness of Christ for his Church we too will be found “wrestling in prayer” for the maturity of others (Col 4:12). That such prevailing prayer is rare is clear evidence that we have lost faith in the willingness of God to reveal his greatness.

The only remedy for our unbelief is the release of the gospel in the power of the Spirit.

My prayer is for apostolic preaching with “signs and wonders and various miracles” in our midst, not so much that people would be healed and delivered, but that God might be confessed as great in the salvation which is in Jesus Christ (Heb 2:3-4).

May we be prepared to bear the cost of such great things; as they say,

The greater the vision the greater the suffering.

Find Your Voice


I was in inner city Melbourne for a conference last week and experienced an ugly contrast between the world and the Church. Walking down Swanston St I came across a very conspicuous brothel with a neon sign reading, “Come in and select from one of our Summertime Beauties.” Such grievous things are part of our sin-saturated society, but back my hotel room I opened my computer and found an email about a Perth pastor trained by the “Reformation Now” network, a movement dedicated to raising up vocal advocates for gay rights.

Things people were once ashamed to speak of in public are now being proclaimed with pride; and it is getting worse all the time. Back in the conference I found myself in a workshop setting that seemed to be reflecting some foundational problems in Christianity today.

At one point I was so provoked by the spiritual dynamic that I walked across the room and sat with “the silent majority” as a prophetic statement that the speaking was being dominated by experienced Christian leaders so that the “ordinary people” were silent.

Illustrating the scope of this passivity a little later in the meeting a zealous African lady living in Melbourne shared how it took a long time for her to discover that there were actually other Christians in her workplace because they had kept so quiet about their personal faith.

 The spiritual crisis in Australian culture today is that though there are professing Christians in every trade and profession and from the Prime Minister through to the lowliest person sleeping in the streets the voice of Jesus is being drowned out by other voices.

These voices include the so-called “new atheists”, like Richard Dawkins, advocates for the legalisation of all drugs, like the Greens, campaigners for transgenderism, zealots for euthanasia or the promoters of same-sex marriage. In every case they are full of confident self-assertion and their voices are being magnified by the media.

Our country is sliding is sliding into an abyss of darkness because these very humanistic voices are carrying the day.

But flesh and blood voices are not the real problem, behind them we should discern the voice which “opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship” this loud, boastful and blasphemous voice is the voice of all that opposes the kingdom of Christ, the spirit of antichrist (Eph 6:12; 2 Thess 2:4; 1 John 2:18; Rev 13:5).

All Australians are aware that soon after the next election there will be a plebiscite on the issue of “Equal Marriage” when we will have an opportunity to make our voice heard.

Unless there is some great miracle between now and then the nature of marriage in our country will be fundamentally redefined.

It is not my voice or your voice however which can make a difference to what is happening, only if the voice of Jesus is heard everywhere speaking to everyone from politicians to prostitutes, can our society be saved from an increasingly hellish future.

Paul prayed for the church in Rome, “May…God…grant you to live in such harmony with one another v.6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 15:5-6). This wonderful picture of the transforming power of the gospel is far from the reality of Christian witness today.


Q: How can the Holy Spirit bring us all into a unity in our testimony to Jesus? 

A: To answer this question we must go back to the story of the origin of evil in Eden.

The voice of the Lord” which formed the world “is powerful…full of majesty” and must have deeply moved the first human beings as it radiated throughout creation (Ps 29:4 cf. Ps 8; 19; Rom 1:19-20).

But a more glorious and beautiful word than that spoken through nature was spoken directly to Adam; it was a word revealing God’s deepest heart; ““You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” (Gen 2:17).

No doubt when Adam and Eve first heard this loving warning they accepted it by faith, but the integrity of every faith commitment needs to be tested in order to go deep into our hearts. Such testing required that Eve hear a rival voice to the voice of God.

The entry of Satan into Eden was a divine opportunity for Adam and Eve to speak out God’s commanding word to the devil in a way that would banish temptation from the earth forever.

Instead of rebuking evil Eve listened to the voice of Satan and Adam listened to the voice of his wife (Gen 3:12ff.).

Ever since this fall we have all been seduced into thinking that we have authority to speak on our own behalf rather than uniting our voices with the voice of our Creator (2 Cor 11:3).

 Fallen people love to hear their own thoughts above the voice of God.

In western society in particular people glory in their ability to speak up for themselves, go deeper however and underneath this self-confidence is the knowledge that every voice will be silenced by death; this is the shame no one can avoid (Gen 3:7-8 cf. John 5:44).


What I sensed in the workshop last week is that shame is so ever-present that we often fail to recognise its power.

When the Holy Spirit fell on the 120 disciples at Pentecost they were all inspired to testify to Jesus with one mouth and voice (Acts 2:4). They all spoke out because they had experienced a “weight of glory” and like all creatures in the presence of God could not keep silence about his might and majesty (2 Cor 4:17; Eph 5:18-20; Isa 6:3; Rev 4-5 etc.).

Shame is the inner witness of our loss of the glory and beauty of God as sinners.

Passivity and silence about spiritual things is a sure sign of a weight/cloak of shame lying over a group.

In an age of church consultants, intense theological training and the professionalization of ministry most believers have given away to religious experts their glorious freedom to speak up for Jesus. Anyone who has the conscious or unconscious thought, “You know what I don’t know.” will feel uninspired and rendered mute.

When I was lecturing I would hear things from students like; “Is it alright to ask a question?” or “I know this is probably a stupid question…” I had to teach my students that whatever knowledge or wisdom I had from God existed for them and it was for their glory not for their embarrassment (cf. 2 Cor 1:6; 4:15; Eph 3:12).

When we speak of the Church finding its voice, which is another way of speaking about revival, we are speaking of the people of God being freed from the depths of a deception that has long strangled them.

But silence is not the only fruit of shame. Whilst some fall silent others cannot keep silence.  


 By its very nature shame always tries to cover itself up.

Adam and Eve began with fig leaves and human history is saturated with self-inspired ideas about life’s meaning.

If we can persuade ourselves and others that our ideas about spirituality and morality are true we feel important. Anyone who thinks, in the least way, “I know what you don’t know.” has an arrogant heart that God opposes (Mark 7:21-22; 1 Pet 5:5).

We find it so difficult to let go of our conviction that we can rightly judge right and wrong for ourselves because we are creatures of pride.

Underlying all inability to listen ONLY to the Lord is pride.

Leaving aside the empty utterances of the world which carry no weight of glory I sometimes think of the billions of words spoken by preachers who think they know what they are saying but whose testimony seems to have so little effect on their hearers (Eph 5:6-7).

Self-confidence concerning morality and spirituality manifest a spirit that is the exact opposite of Christ; this spirit is intensifying inside and outside the Church today and finds perfect expression in the speech of “the beast…given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words” (Rev 13:5; cf. Ezek 28:17; 1 Tim 3:6). We all suffer from pride and to deny this would be prideful.

Sometimes God embarrasses us when we least expect us.

We were visiting some of Donna’s relatives recently when someone remarked that we had been given a car as a gift; something moved me to say that in fact we had been given both our cars. All of a sudden I felt terribly convicted because I could sense I was suffering from spiritual pride; which would have to be the worst sort of pride of all.

Whether shame shows its fruit in silence or prideful speech such things go so deep and are so culturally a part of life that only one person can give us a pure heart and clean lips releasing our voices to testify of the mighty works of God. Only Jesus can deliver us from the impotency of Christian testimony in Australia today (Acts 2:11).

The Voice of the Son of God

While much of human life is an inner dialogue swinging between “You know what I don’t know.” and “I know what you don’t know.” Jesus never compared himself to others (2 Cor 10:12-13 cf. John 5:44).

He always spoke the words of God because he listened only for the voice of the Father (John 3:34).

Satan’s voice tried to tempt Jesus to be somebody in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11) but he was unashamed to testify “the Father is greater than I am” (John 14:28). “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10).

Great as his works were Christ humbly knew the limits of his earthly words. 

One of the greatest miracles of Jesus occurred when he stood at the tomb of Lazarus and “cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”” The man who had died came out” (John 11:43-44). But Lazarus would grow old and die again (cf. John 12:9-11).

Jesus however prophesied of a coming time when his voice would fully bear the weight of the glory of God; “v.28 for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice v.29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28-29).

Part of the mystery of Christ is that his voice could not attain the authority to issue in a new creation until his obedience was perfected through the suffering of the cross (Heb 2:10; 5:7-9). When Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus he intentionally spoke aloud free from all self-consciousness, “v.41Father, I thank you that you have heard me. v.42 …you always hear me,” (John 11:41-42), but on the cross however he must enter into a state of not being heard by God at all.

Whilst sinful voices were speaking so loudly against Jesus as he was dying in his heart he was listening only for the voice of the Father. But heaven was silent, sacrificed for our unwillingness to listen to God Christ is totally cut off from the Father’s words (2 Cor 5:21).

If muteness and pride are our sinful responses to shame Jesus will bear our sin in a spirit which is the exactly opposite way (1 Pet 2:24).

In contrast to our muteness he “cries out with a loud voice” and in contradiction to our know-all pride he testifies of ignorance, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). This is the perfection of the humility of the voice of the Son of God but it came at great cost.

Since for Jesus the source and substance of everything beautiful and glorious in the world is the word of his Father being cut off from God’s voice is an experience of untellable horror.

To all those who saw the crucifixion in the flesh; “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isa 53:2). But in dying Jesus was in fact being glorified just as he had been promised by the Father.

v.27Now is my soul troubled…‘ v.28 …Father, glorify your name.Then a voice came from heaven:I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” v.29 ….Jesus answered, v.31…Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. v.32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.v.33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.”. 

John 12:27-33

The silence of the Father at the cross seemed to human eyes conclusive evidence that Jesus was no true Son of God (Matt 27:40), but the witness of the true character of the crucified Christ is his resurrection from the dead “by the glory of the Father” Rom 6:4.

Now exalted to the right hand of God Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God…and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Acts 2:33; Heb 1:3).

Christ is the Word through whom the world was created, by which it is preserved and through which all things are moved to their appointed goal (John 1:1ff; 1 Cor 8:6).

Today the Word of Christ radiates the glory and beauty of God through everything.

This is why the holy angels who live close to the throne of God and of the Lamb in heaven cry out in unison;

““Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!””  (Isa 6:3; John 12:41; Rev 5:13).


 Since people on earth cannot hear the heavenly angelic witness it is the call of the Church to bring this testimony to the world (Rev 5:9-10).

The Glory of Christ’s Voice in the Church

To carry “the testimony of Jesus” is much more than to tell a few people that they need to be saved, it involves bringing utterances of the wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing and power of Christ to every dimension of society (cf. 1 Cor 12:4-11).

That was the purpose of the conference I attended last week and why it was attended by politicians, lawyers, business people, medical and military personnel and so on (Rev 1:2, 9; 12:17; 19:10; 20:4).

Here is Paul’s vision of the Church’s service of Christ. In exhorting the Colossians;

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Col 3:16

he has a vision of a united voice that cannot be contained in the four walls of the Church but spills out into all the dimensions of life that were originally created for the Lordship of Jesus (Eph 2:10; Col 1:16). The voice of Jesus needs to be heard everywhere speaking to everyone from business leaders to barmaids; this is not happening across our culture because the voice of the Lord is being bottled up inside the walls of the church.  

 One of our problems is that a minority of Christians are asking expectantly to hear the voice of Jesus as we gather week by week.

This shows that few believe in practice that the voice of the Son of God is an exceedingly glorious beautiful sweet and safe voice (SoS 2:14; John 10:27).

Despite all appearances hope for our perishing depraved society consists in the glory and beauty of Christ’s life radiating through the gathered people of God into the world. As the Bride of Christ his Church should be radiant but we are rarely seen shining with such splendour (Eph 5:23 cf. Rev 20).

I listened attentively when a friend made a spontaneous comment about the leader of a church she was visiting, “Last time I visited here x looked radiant, now they look tired.” From the outside the Church looks tired and irrelevant; only 1 in 4 Australians believe the Church can help meet their spiritual needs.

To quote some recent research, ““The community is now able to meet spiritual needs through yoga, through listening to uplifting music, attending a motivational seminar, reading a book….That’s where Australians have moved to.[1]

We need to confess we are in desperate need of “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19-20).

The shame, silence and pride which are paralysing the progress of the kingdom of God through the Church into the world is rooted in deep deception.

Most Christians have given away their glory; Eve gave false glory to the serpent by listening to his voice, Adam falsely honoured Eve by following her example and we behave as if the Church were a hierarchy with only the higher ranks given vision and authority to speak in the name of Christ.

The truth is that you cannot dilute the true testimony of Jesus; in my language, “The quality of the testimony of Jesus is indivisible.” When Paul speaks of, “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” he means every Christian has as much a testimony to Christ’s glory, beauty and authority as any other believer (Col 1:27).

It is time we accepted with true humility that every tongue that speaks the name of Jesus in the presence of witnesses is glorious and beautiful in the sight of God (cf. Rom 10:15).

Let me use an illustration from the conference.

About 30 years ago one of the organisations that was formed to promote the rights of women to abort their children was called Emily’s List. This network has been highly successful in changing legislation in western nations.

Much more recently some Christians were moved by God to set up a media and support network dedicated to preserving the lives of unborn children.

Their organisation is called Emily’s Voice, a voice for the unborn. The Emily’s Voice videos we saw at the conference showed very ordinary working class people speaking out of how they decided against the odds to keep their babies.

They spoke what can only be described as beautiful words of deep spiritual authority. (

In a society whose conscience has become “seared” by so much godless propaganda (1 Tim 4:2) it is this sort of speaking with glory and beauty, rather than telling people they are “wrong” and we are “right” that can change hardened hearts.


When best-selling author Stephen Covey penned these words he struck a note that has resonated not only in the world but tragically also in the Church:

There is a deep, innate, almost inexpressible yearning within each of us to find our Voice (unique personal significance) in life….: When you engage in work  That taps your talent That fuels your passion That rises out of a great need in the world That you feel drawn by conscience to meet, Therein lies your Voice, your calling, your soul’s code.”

by Stephen Covey

At first hearing this sounds good, but the centre and substance of this quotation about humanity finding its voice is exactly the same as that proposed by Satan in the Garden, “It’s all about you.”!

This is a demonic version of finding our voice. (James 3:14-16).

The voice which we must seek today is not your voice or my voice, it is not the voice of a spiritual general or great apostle or reformer, in my opinion the Western nations can no longer be revived by figures such as Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, Booth or Graham, the one voice, the only voice we must be seeking with our whole hearts is a crucified and risen voice (1 Cor 1:13).

This voice alone has the power of eternal life (John 6:68).

The good news is that since every believer has been spiritually crucified and raised with Christ the beauty and the glory of the voice of Jesus can be heard speaking through the whole Body of Christ (Rom 6:6; Gal 2:20; 5:24; Eph 2:6; Col 3:1).

Not only speaking to one another inside the Church but radiating into every the spheres of arts, entertainment, media, politics, law, health, sport, business, education etc..

Only a vision of this magnitude is capable of turning the tide against the surge of evil that is flooding our nation.

One reason this is not happening is that the vision of many pastors involves maintaining their monopoly on speaking with authority amongst the people of God; most Christian leaders are afraid of losing control.

When the Spirit gives utterance to all the people of God Jesus alone is Lord of the Church (Acts 2:5; 1 Cor 12:3; Eph 5:18-20).

One great deficiency stands between the mess we are in and a grass roots renewal of Christ-centred spirituality in Australia; we need more humility.

In his self-emptying Jesus became the one place where the wrath of God was turned away from a shameful, proud and guilty humanity (2 Chron 32:26; Rom 3:25; Phil 2:5ff).

Repentance and deep humility will be provoked amongst God’s people in Australia not when we have a recognise our failures but when we have a revelation from heaven of the majesty of all our voices in Christ, that all we say for Jesus is already penetrated by his eternal glory and beauty (cf. Rom 2:4). 

Today the Spirit is seeking a people who have only one passion, to hear the voice of the Son of God in and through each other for the sake of the salvation of the world.

May we belong to such a people; “Lord, let us hear your Voice” (Luke 9:35).

The Way

On the Journey with Jesus 4:


The popular approach to the theme of being On the Journey with Jesus emphasises Christ as a loving companion and guide to me on my life journey.

Jesus is someone who listens to my prayers and satisfies my deepest needs.

This approach reflects the self-centeredness of our age.

The biblical truth about the human journey is that it not my journey with a place for Christ but Christ’s journey with a place for me.

Jesus is someone who answers our prayers and satisfies our deepest needs because his prayers and needs were first of all met by the Father.

John says this about Christ; “Jesus, knowing…that he had come from God and was going back to God” (John 13:3).

Jesus own personal journey was a trip from being with the Father in heaven entering into our world and returning back to the Father (cf. John 1:1, 18; Phil 2:5-11).

On our journey with Christ:


Whereas today’s popular spirituality has more to say about the trip than its destination, Jesus was focussed on the goal of his life journey as returning to the eternal glory of his Father (John 17:5).

All the works of Jesus, his saving presence and healing and delivering power were designed to illuminate the character of the Father and motivate men and women to join him in his journey back to the fullness of the Father’s love in heaven (John 5:19-20; 10:38; 14:11)

The Way to the Father

In words which are unpopular today Christ said, ““I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

The song we heard from Keith Green (“You Are The One”) is an authentic expression of his own life journey. Green, who came to Christ from a background that mingled Judaism, Christian Science and hippy love, authentically testifies that every human being has been totally lost, repeatedly lied to and spiritually dead (Eph 2:1).

It is only Jesus who brings us complete guidance, absolute truth and eternal life by being the Way back to God. I was walking in the park the other day and I struck up a conversation with one of the “dog people”. After a while of sharing her many painful needs she said, “I am dying inside”. This lady was once a church-goer and Bible reader, she had no problem talking about Jesus, but when she kept talking about “God”, “God”, “God” I knew her great need for comfort and strength would only come when she joined with Jesus in his return to the Father. She was lost because she was Fatherless. With his sole desire to obey the Father and lead others to the Father Jesus is the Way. The paradox of the gospel is that for Jesus to put us on the Way he must lose his way.

Christ said he had come “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

To save us all and set us on the path to the Father Jesus needed to do more than mighty miracles and marvellous words.

He needed to take upon himself all our lostness and disorientation; this is the work of the cross.

Jesus’ terrible cry; ““My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34) is the crisis point of his human journey, and it is a crisis about where he is going.

Bearing all our sinful confusion Christ loses all consciousness of himself as the Son who is the Way to the Father, his life journey seems bereft of all purpose and identity (2 Cor 5:21).

But the climax of the cross is not lostness, when Jesus prays these words with his final breath we know he has recovered his place as the Way to the Father; ““Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46).

The following resurrection and ascension of the Son back to the Father completes the journey he came to make on our behalf (John 20:17; Rom 1:4).

The claim that Christ is the Way to the Father is fiercely opposed by non-Christian spiritualities.


People today love stories about self-discovery because that’s what they long for themselves.

Eat,_Pray,_Love_–_Elizabeth_Gilbert,_2007After a painful divorce, in 2006 Elizabeth Gilbert[1] wrote her memoirs of a journey around the world called, “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia”[2] It quickly sold 10 million copies was on New York Times best sellers list for nearly 4 years and became a motion picture. It was a great hit because it promised “the path to the vibrant, fulfilling life you’ve dreamed of.”


As the word “Pray” in the title of her book indicates Gilbert is a very spiritual person, but her spirituality is an expression of the popular pluralism which says there are many ways to God.

John Yates

To illustrate this let me quote some words from an interview between Canon Frank Sheehan[3] the chaplain at Christ Church Grammar and a RC nun.

Sheehan cites her words with approval;

“There’s no one way (to spiritual realisation) as far as I am concerned. From the top of the mountain you can look down and see many paths (to the summit) it’s the journey that matters. I start with my own experience.”

Canon Frank Sheehan

This form of spirituality is totally back to front because it puts ‘ME’ rather than Jesus at the centre of everything.

The True journey of life is not my experience with a place for Jesus but Jesus’ experience with a place for me. Only as we share Jesus’ journey can he reveal to us our true identity.

What about this image of a spiritual mountain from whose summit we can see the many paths to God.

There is a spiritual mountain but only one person has ever reached its peak; only the resurrected Jesus could say, “‘I am ascending to my Father and…my God…’”” (John 20:17).

Founders of other religions point people to a “way”, perhaps in the Koran, or the noble eight fold path of the Buddha and so on; but only God’s only Son pronounced he was the Way to the Father (John 3:16).

The way to God is not an abstract theological discussion.

Debate has been raging recently in America where a lecturer in a Christian College (Wheaton) was stood down for stating that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God”. Christians and Muslims both believe that there is one Creator God who speaks through his prophets will raise the dead judge all people and send some to paradise and others to hell.

But do they worship the same God?

The Dome of Rock in Jerusalem (Al-Aqsa mosque) is the third holiest site in Islam, inscribed on its walls are words drawn from the Koran; “The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a Messenger of God….So believe in God and His messengers, and say not ‘Three’ – Cease!…God is only One God.

Far be it removed from His transcendent majesty that He should have a son.” It makes no sense to say that the followers of a religion which denies that God is Father and Jesus is his Son worship the same Lord as Christians.

Anyone who denies that Jesus is the Way to the Father is not on the same journey as we are.

Jesus warned about the popular wide and easy way that leads to destruction and the unpopular hard and narrow way that leads to life (Matt 7:13-14).

The apostles took Christ at his word.

When preaching to the followers of other faiths in Athens Paul explained why we must believe in Jesus as the Way to heaven; v.30“God overlooked people’s ignorance…in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. v.31 For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”” (Acts 17:30-31).

The stamp of divine approval on every aspect of the human journey is on the life of only one person, Jesus of Nazareth, only Christ so totally pleased the Father as to be raised from the dead into everlasting life. So far this sermon sounds very individualistic, but there are community dimensions to being on a journey with Jesus.


There is a scene in the TV series The Tudors[4] where King Henry VIII is standing in the grounds of one of his palaces and says to a companion, “Walk with me.” When the king says “Walk with me” we would expect every one of his subjects to obey him and allow him to set the tune of conversation on the journey.

Our King is Jesus and we should expect that Christians on their journey together with Christ would function as a tight knit community. Churches however are often known for power plays, internal politics and personality clashes.

The prophet Amos says, “Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” (Amos 3:3).

Moving in the same direction is not a matter of agreeing about every point of theology, morality, ministry or liturgy; the non-negotiable point of agreement is mutual submission to the will of Christ.

His words are clear, “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” (Matt 18:19).

If the members of a church are agreed in their submission to Christ his promise will be true in our experience, ““anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” (John 14:12).

If we are not seeing Christ’s works in our midst; healings, salvations, deliverance from demonic powers, it must be that we are not in close agreement in our journeying with Jesus.

I am reminded of a scene from a film where a group of warriors in scattered formation was approaching a rival troop and one by one the soldiers on the outside of the pack were being picked off by enemy arrows.

When the soldiers closed ranks and joined shields the arrows could not get through.

Spiritual warfare is like natural warfare. Paul exhorts the Church; “In all circumstances, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.” (Eph 6:16).

It’s time to take the shield of faith for others and clump together on the journey with Jesus recognising that our enemy is never another Christian but always the devil (Eph 6:12).

Early this morning the Lord started to speak to me about these things with some clarity.

There are two father figures in the Bible, God the true Father and the false father who is the devil (John 8:44.)

In the presence of the true Father these words come true “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” (Col 3:13).

In the presence of the lying father (Satan) there is gossip, rumour, innuendo, accusation and condemnation which give birth to embarrassment, shame, fear, anxiety, a muted spirit, depression and confusion.

All these very earthly things paralyse the power of the presence of the kingdom of God (James 3:14-16).

Where the presence of the true Father is manifest from heaven there is always love, joy, peace, victory and boldness in the things of God (James 3:17-18; 1 John 5:4).

Week by week in our service we say together;

Send us, we pray, in the strength of this meal, to tell the Good News to neighbours and strangers with creative words and compassionate service, walking the way to Christ.

These are great words, but how many unchurched people are being drawn in to join us “walking the way to Christ”? 

As a total community we are struggling to walk closely together in spiritual fellowship because we have yet to learn the true meaning of “fellowship”.

The New Testament word for “fellowship” (koinonia) does not mean “sharing”, but “having a common share”.

The common share we have is not being of the same race, gender, social, educational or economic status, it is not being Australian or Anglican, it is not moral character, spiritual gifting or Bible knowledge, the one eternal thing we have in common is a joint share in the life of Christ (Rom 8:17).

The Christ in whom we share has travelled the human journey on our behalf and brought it to successful completion for us all by returning to the Father.

In Christ there are no spiritual superiors or inferiors.

Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Rom 14:4).

Only in the light of this revelation of a God-given equality in Christ can believers stay close together on the rough road that leads to eternal life. If the journey is so difficult and so opposite to all our self-centred desires how do we get others to join us on the journey?


We must have confidence that at the end of the journey we will share in the everlasting joy of the Father; Hebrews exhorts us, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1-2).

Every person knows that their earthly journey will end in death; but then what?

In the last week the topic of life beyond death has come up with people repeatedly so it must be something the Lord wants to speak to us about.

The apostle Paul approached death with boldness and excitement; “So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord… v.8 Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor 5:6, 8 cf. Phil 1:21-23).

It is not that Paul had a miserable life from which he wanted to escape, but the thrill of reaching the end of the journey by being with Jesus and his heavenly Father was overwhelming. This is our call too.

Our authority to speak about the journey of the Christian life to others, including going to heaven, flows from our own desire to depart from this life and be with Christ.

The goal of the spiritual journey is the key to every aspect of the journey.

But not everyone is on the same journey.


The Bible speaks of two eternal destinies at the end of life’s journey; the goats join the devil in hell and the sheep of Jesus share heaven with his Father

Matt 25:31-46.

Friends, when was the last time a neighbour, relative, workmate or friend said, “I want to go where you are going”?

At the level of our church, when was the last time a totally unchurched person asked to join with us on the Way?

To the degree that an individual or a congregation manifests the triumph of love over hostility, of Christ over Satan, of heaven over hell, to that degree people will join Jesus on the way to heaven and be added to the church (Acts 2:47; 1 John 3:8).

Tragically, Satan has successfully disabled the gifts and presence of God amongst us so we are not regularly seeing people turn to the Lord.

What then can we do?

It is time to take our eyes off earthly things/people and be united in pressing on “to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Phil 3:14).

No one can arrive at the destination where Christ is in heaven unless they have personally heard and responded to his call to receive him as Lord and obey him in whatever he says.

The human journey out of time into eternity is not about a personal path of self-discovery nor even about discovering who we are as St Mark’s/Church on the Rise; it is about the revelation of Jesus as the Way to the Father.

This must be our sole passion and this must be, for Christ’s sake, our united prayer.

Preached at St Mark’s 24th Jan 2016



Reformation, Sunday 


Recent encounters have challenged me to comment on the shape of Sunday church services i.e. liturgies[1]The English word “liturgy” derives from a Greek word for public service and is generally used for a set order of congregational worship e.g. in Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches..

First, some observations at a church we visited last week, then a meeting with a devout Christian disturbed by the form of service in his own congregation.

Time changes us.

As a young Pentecostal Christian I would never have opted to attend services that were so unspiritual as to be scripted from a book. Soon however I was left without a choice; through living on campus at an Anglican theological college I was compelled by college rules to attend Sunday chapel.

A little reflection made me quickly realise that all churches are liturgical.

Contemporary congregations generally adopt an unwritten liturgy that looks something like:

  • welcome
  • opening prayer
  • songs
  • sermon
  • offering
  • songs
  • closing prayer.

Even in my original Pentecostal congregation the expression of the charismatic gifts was in a fixed place after the preacher. Even if all churches are liturgical the contemporary structure of services in our most influential (megachurches) raises some issues of deep concern.

We are witnessing a new generation of Christians who do not know the Lord’s Prayer by heart.

Whereas repeating the Creeds shaped the minds of generations about Trinitarian orthodoxy today younger converts in trendy congregations have no idea what “Three in One” means!

By pronouncing, “Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we proclaim your great and glorious name” ancient liturgies lift our minds from earth heavenwards, popular worship services are focussed on our emotionality (cf. Col 3:1-3).

My main concern is whether our Sunday meetings image the shape of the life of Christ.


What I found fascinating about the church we visited last Sunday was its centring on the Bible. After a single song and brief welcome the entire first chapter of Mark was read followed by an expository sermon on this passage.

Everything after that, the communion, prayers and singing was subordinated to the profile of Scripture.

Two observations sprung to mind as I attended that meeting, the primary witness to Christ is scripture but Jesus is not to be equated with the words Bible.

Conservative Bible-centred churches do have a problem, but the dominant pattern in most large churches is far more grievous.

Here the peak point of participation is likely at the climax of a long period of singing which sets the mood the congregation for the sermon.

The address will not be a structured exposition of scripture but a motivational story line in sync with the choruses that stirred the emotions of the people.

Biblical illustrations and texts are likely used to support the plausibility of the sermon rather than being its foundation.

In such churches the offering talk will be about the benefits of our “giving back to God” and when communion happens it will focus on our ability to “remember Jesus”.

Almost certainly there will be few public prayers; certainly none about matters of government, public justice and so on; this despite the scriptural injunction, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions…” (1 Tim 2:1-2).

What ties this liturgical form together is not the shape of the life of Christ but

is the moods and needs of the stressed individual Westerner.

Religion and culture are a powerful mix and one that can only be deconstructed by the power of the cross.


Paul exhorts “test everything” (1 Thess 5:21) and Luther pointedly remarked, “The cross is the test of all things.

Not that every sentence needs to use the word “cross” but the shape of our liturgies, oral or written, should reflect the cruciform (cross-shaped) character of God’s great saving plan.

The first step in God’s laying out his plan to bring creation to himself was the choice of Jesus to be the Lamb slain from before the world was made (Eph 1:9-10; 1 Pet 1:19-20; Rev 13:8).

This makes Christ’s death-and-resurrection the foundation of all salvation history.

In God’s dealings with lost humanity all of fallen space-time history has been laid on the cross, judged there and in Christ elevated as a new creation (John 19:30; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15).

The scope of the revelation given us in the gospel unites heaven and earth (Rom 16:25-27).

Nothing we do in our public gatherings should diminish the extent of what God has accomplished in Christ; any stress on this-worldy peace and prosperity does exactly that, “Little children, keep yourself from idols.” (1 John 5:21; cf. 1 Cor 7:29-31).

The litmus test of every form of church service is the gospel; I delivered to you as of first importance…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” (1 Cor 15:3-4).

All questions about liturgies boil down to, does our singing, prayers, preaching, communion publicly portray the shape of the life of Christ (Gal 3:1)?

Here is a clear, if unpopular, example that embodies the shape of the gospel.

Corporate confession of sin followed by a declaration of forgiveness images the death-and-resurrection of Jesus who “was handed over to die because of our sins, and raised to life for our justification with God.” (Rom 4:25 cf. James 5:16).

Such gospel-centred actions continually remind us of our need for a Saviour and that Jesus has fully met this need. Run this litmus test at your own church next Sunday.



This is as true now as it was during the Protestant Reformation or the Nazification of the German Church in Barth’s day.

Responding to the tangled shape of modern life where people are stretched by forces of family, finance, work and technology many orders of service have moulded ‘Jesus’ to meet our personal needs.

A mind set in complete contrast to what entertains us is called for.

Since creation is a platform for God’s glory (Calvin) we must inhabit a vision of our services as an encounter between heaven and earth where the Father beholds the Spirit-inspired worship of the standing-as-slain Lamb (Heb 12:18-24; Rev 1:10; 5:6-14; 13:6).

This is a God-centred vision of a new creation created through the gospel.

The gospel promise is that where the form of the death of Jesus is enacted his resurrection presence will be real (Rom 6:8; Phil 3:10).

“Reformation, Sunday”; two simple words, but through the lens of the cross they speak of a new spirit of seeing and enacting the cosmic drama of redemption.

Because of its cost the road of reform is a road less travelled; most will opt for a predictable Sunday routine that supplies a spiritual hit to get us through the week whilst leaving ME firmly in control.

Perhaps however a few readers of this article will desire to experience the great power of the gospel of Christ which left Paul breathless, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (Rom 1:16; 2 Cor 2:16).

These few will no doubt suffer in seeking a reform of the religious systems of the day for the glory of God alone.

Such a cruciform life will certainly pass the test and bring great pleasure to our heavenly Father.

Is there anything else that matters?


1 The English word “liturgy” derives from a Greek word for public service and is generally used for a set order of congregational worship e.g. in Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches.

The Beauty Parlour

Personal Matters

I have not slept soundly since a church related trauma around 20 years ago, but since being on retreat recently things have been considerably worse. (When you feel tired out before 9 a.m. in the morning something is seriously wrong.) Things deteriorated even more when I felt constrained to speak about the abusive and addictive nature of religious institutions over the last few weeks.

Then when the disturbing dreams started to involve complex liturgical events and dialogues about orthodoxy I knew that that the Lord was working to resolve my ambivalent relationship with organised Christianity.

Out praying this morning some of these things began to come together, but in a rather unexpected way.

I came across a sign on the street, of which there are a number in our suburb, advertising beauty treatment in a local home. (Our culture is fairly obsessed with appearances; even the wretched local barber recently seemed constrained to tailor my hair artistically rather than with the purely functional cut that I requested.)

Out in the street I sensed that the real issue between me and the Church, and one that touches all those believers disaffected with organised religion, is whether there are any limits to the Lord’s working to beautify his Body? The place to start answering this question is through God’s perspective on “all things” (Rom 11:36).

All the World’s a Parlour

If all things was created “for” Jesus and we are “bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh” then everything was created for us his Bride (Gen 2:23; 1 Cor 3:21; Eph 5:31-32; Col 1:16). Such are the unfathomable dimensions of Christ’s covenant of grace (Eph 2:7).

When in “awesome wonder” we behold the heavens, moon, stars and all that God has made a Christian can no longer ask, “what is man that you are mindful of him” (Ps 8)?

We know this person worthy of all the wonders of creation is Jesus, the second Adam and our true Bridegroom “crowned with glory and honour” (Heb 2:5-9).

The prophetic utterance, “he has made everything beautiful in its time” has been fulfilled in Christ (Eccl 3:11). The whole world of colour, sound, scent, sex and deliciousness was first of all created to reflect the radiance of the Lord Jesus, and in time our glory in him (Heb 1:2-3). The “king in all his beauty” is Christ and the beautiful Woman he desires is us his Bride the Church (Ps 45:10-11; Isa 33:17).

In the plan of the Father everything gorgeous has been given to Jesus to give to his Bride to intensify her eternal loveliness. It is at this point of receiving from Christ that things started to go wrong.


Instead of seeing beauty as a gift Adam and Eve desired it for themselves; the fruit of the tree of knowledge was such a “delight to the eyes” they felt they needed it be their possession (Gen 3:6).

The forbidden fruit stood was the gift of a boundary from an all wise God, this was the one gift humanity refused to receive.

In wanting to “have it all” God’s children fell away from the whole purpose of creation. Likewise, having forgotten the foundational nature of creation-as-gift Paul must remind the foolish Corinthians, “What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?” (1 Cor 4:7).

We need constant reminding that the pinnacle of creation is its sheer givenness.

As a created being man can achieve beyond the graces of the Creator and the most beautiful thing about creation is that it is pure gift.

When human beings began to set their eyes on beautiful things to be possessed and enjoyed in themselves they lost their true glory and became idolaters (Rom 1:19-23).

If the most potent form of idolatry is religious, and who could doubt that in our day, then its most ugly dimension must be the usurping of true worship in the Church. Thus the New Testament describes the peak of the power of satanic rebellion taking place “in the temple of God” i.e. amongst God’s people (2 Thess 2:3-12 cf. 2 Cor 6:16).

This is why Matt Redman’s song The Heart of Worship lamenting the “worship of worship” is so obviously prophetic.

There is nothing uglier in the spiritual realm than a “worship leader” or “anointed” preacher, miracle worker etc. who does not point purely to Jesus as the gift of God in whom are included all other graces and gifts (John 4:10; 2 Cor 9:15).

No wonder I have trouble sleeping. Yet this article cannot be it about me.

If givenness is beautiful then it is the sacrificial givenness of the cross which is the ultimate expression of all possible beauties (John 3:16).

Suffering for This?

When the prophet describes Jesus’ appearance as “so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind…. no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” he upholds the crucified Lord as the final reference point for all appreciation of loveliness (Isa 52:14; 53:2).

When Christ cries out; “my God, why have you forsaken…?”” he feels that before God he has no loveliness at all (Mark 15:34).

These terrors however are not his but ours; Jesus carries all our sinful fears of being unlovely and so unloved (2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:24).

In the light of the curses, beatings, lashings and piercings of the cross borne for us we have insight into the uttermost beauty of the immeasurable love of our Bridegroom, a beauty that will intoxicate us forever (Rev 19:6-8).

Compared to this all else is eternal boredom. Why then do we get so stuck in our idolatry?

When the Emperor Constantine called the bishops together for the Synod of Nicaea he was overwhelmed to see that many of them bore the scars of Roman persecution.

This hardened soldier himself is said to have kissed the eyeless cheek of one attendee.

In the realm of holiness the world’s most powerful man knew he was in the presence of a sacrificial Love whose reflected beauty knew no limits (1 John 4:10).

Those who share my ambivalence about organised Christianity are not yet persuaded in conscience that all the traumas suffered at the hands of an immature Church have been part of a wondrous plan for the beautification of the Bride, to which we belong.

Through suffering Jesus prepares for himself “a glorious church without spot or wrinkle or any other blemish…holy and blameless” (Eph 5:27).

The powerful dynamic of the global beauty parlour is not limited to open physical persecutions in far away places but embraces our trials at the hands of immature Australian Christians like ourselves. They too are included in the parlour process without limit by which the Lord makes “everything” beautiful in its time and for his sole glory (Eccl 3:11; 1 Pet 5:9).


The institutional Church often treats its children as unlovely and so unloved.

We can either receive this as within God’s “only wise” plan to make all things beauteous or we can respond in a realistic down to earth manner (Rom 16:27; Col 3:1-3).

The latter is disastrous because it fails to embrace the way of the cross.

Since “the death of God’s saints” is “precious in the sight of the Lord” and we have been united with the infinitely sweet death of Jesus, then in all the little deaths we have suffered for Christ there is in us already a radiant beauty desired by our Groom (Ps 45:10-11; 116:15; Rom 6:3; 1 Cor 15:31; Eph 5:2).

Already Jesus delights in those scars we have faithfully borne whenever we have refused to compromise his truth, either inside or outside the Church.

Already in his eyes rays of glory stream from our lives bringing glory to his Father (cf. Hab 3:4; John 20:27-28; 2 Cor 3:17-18).

The wondrous purposes of God never fail and we are within this wisdom; “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph 3:21).

SHE (The Church)

Personal matters

The deepest revelation comes in the context of conflict, because it involves sharing in the sufferings of Christ (Heb 10:32).

Such enlightenment however does not come automatically but through willing submission to God’s profoundly exacting purposes.

The intimate bonds of marriage make it a particularly powerful arena for these sorts of eternal insights.

So when Donna and I had an unusually intense and prolonged disagreement about some features of our relationship recently I was not surprised when I sensed the Lord speaking about core issues of identity, especially the feminine nature of the Church. This has nothing to do with the recent alien cultural “feminisation” of the Western Church but is about the Church as Bride who receives her identity from her Head and Bridegroom, Jesus (Eph 5:23).

Where the Church as Woman and God as motherly have often been neglected the Spirit recently was drawing me to passages with this emphasis. The “Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.”; Jesus compares himself to a mother hen, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” and God is like a woman who throws a party when her lost coin is found (Luke 13:34; 15:8-10; Gal 4:26).

The implications of the mother-like presence of the Lord are vast and probably cannot be accepted until we recognise that as Church we are a SHE (Isa 49:15). So that our biases do not overcome us the place to begin this connection is NOT with women/men, mothers/fathers or husbands/wives but with God’s own inner life.

Equal Glory

Despite all earthly appearances the priority of the Father does not mean he possesses more glory than the Son; v.22The Father…has given all judgment to the Son, v.23 that all may honour the Son, just as they honour the Father.” (John 5:22-23; 1 Cor 8:6; Phil 2:9-11).

If anything less than the fullness of the glory of the Father was mediated through Jesus then our salvation would be infinitely incomplete. Though from our perspective the Father and Jesus appear radically distinct there can be no degrees of glory in the Godhead.

Earthly images cannot assist us at this point; since only God can reveal God the Spirit alone can show us “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 3:18; 4:6).

This Trinitarian insight means that women and men as created in God’s image share an equal glory (Gen 1:26-28; Isa 43:6-7). Paul’s reflection; ““man…is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.” does not mean the creation of Adam prior to Eve gives the male greater glory than a woman, but that Adam’s call was to completely communicate all the glory he had directly from God to his wife (1 Cor 11:7).

The gendered ordering of creation in Genesis ultimately speaks about our Lordly Husband imparting to us as his Bride all of his exalted glory (Eph 3:20-21; 5:32). Despite all appearances, the Church is the glory of Christ (2 Cor 8:23).

Contrary to our hierarchical dispositions Christ does not have pre-eminence over the Church, he has first place “for the Church” (Eph 1:22).

For biblically literate Christians the above teaching should be uncontroversial, but it is hugely difficult to live out. The tension I recently had with Donna did however open up a previously more hidden area of my hypocrisy in our marriage.

In the world of earthly appearances my ministry of the Word might appear to give me a greater position of honour than that possessed by my school teacher wife. Donnas’ recent protestations that I have at times acted as if my ministry was more important than hers could not be refuted.

The truth is however that my vocation as a prophet-teacher exists to empower marketplace people like Donna for their ministry in the everyday world of work (Eph 4:10-12). I have long professed these things but now the Spirit is calling me to more consistently image Christ to my wife as an image of His Church (Eph 5:32).

Within my personal circumstances can be found some keys as to why the Church today is not looking anywhere near as “radiant” with the glory of God as she is called to be (Eph 5:27; Rev 21:9-11).

Confident Submission

The Church as we know Her in Australia is not behaving as a confident Woman who has been pledged the inheritance of “all things” in Christ (1 Cor 3:22).

Her issues with pastoral dominance, centralised control, disempowerment of marketplace Christians, prayerlessness, biblical illiteracy and an obsession with numerical growth point to a Bride that has lost intimacy with her Groom. Jesus taught us that if we abide in Him as our single great desire all other things will come to us (Luke 10:41-42; John 15:5ff.).

But where does one find a congregation living in such marital closeness?

A terrible thing has taken place in the nuptial relationship between Bride and Groom, Christ’s Woman has so fallen in love with herself that SHE has lost the ability to be taken by her Lord. “Taken” in the sense that a wife was always meant to be taken by her husband in overwhelming rapturous love (Gen 24:67; SoS). 

But why would SHE, the Church, step away from such an intense union?

There is but one answer, to avoid submission to Her Head (Eph 5:23-24).

Submit to Death

To submit to Jesus means to share in his obedient submission to the Father all the way to the cross (Phil 2:7).

Our Husband promised, “‘If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.’” (John 15:15).

The current discipleship crisis across the Church, whereby people are not keeping Her teaching, is a sign that we as His Woman have not obeyed His word about persecution. The fact is that the more the Church is persecuted and vilified for Christ’s sake the more SHE grows in confidence and authority in the Word of Her Lord (1 Pet 2:23; 3:16).

Since Jesus proclaimed, ““Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”” we must understand that the radiance of the Church in her true identity will only come forth as SHE is despised as a useless irrelevant relic from the past (Matt 5:11; Luke 24:26; 1 Cor 1:28). The mystery of the glory of the Father and Son shining through the Bride of Jesus can only be revealed through costly submission (1 Cor 2:7, 13).


The Lord is working to transition His Church into a true understanding about who SHE is in Her true greatness in Him.

This has nothing to do with the dominant gendered ideologies of our time.

The idolatries of patriarchal defensiveness and feminist aggression are equally avoidances of the painful submission that alone brings heavenly revelation. To step out of these idolatries will lead us into new insights and expressions of the equal glory of Father and Son in the power of the Spirit.

I believe a new confidence and authority is coming for the obedient Bride.

Where the Western Church has skilfully avoided persecution by long flirting with popular culture a coming time of open rejection will reveal to Her just how much SHE has been loved by her Bridegroom of blood (SoS 4:9ff.). When such tribulations come to a submissive Woman SHE will desire with great desire to be taken by Her Lord. This is our true identity.